The Caped Crusaders of Hip-Hop have been getting it in during the off-season. We got a chance to catch up with the Dream Team of the Underground, Prism and Sonburn, as they opened up about restoring pride and poise to Hip-Hop.
Where are you guys from?
P: I’m Brooklyn born and moved to NJ in ’87.
SB: Born & raised in Jersey
Prism, how long have you been moving crowds?
P: I’ve been blessing the mic since 1994. I started out doing tracks with DJ Bananas (Matt Goias a.k.a. the brain behind Fanny Pack)
And SB, how long have you been doing your thing on the 1’s and 2’s?
SB: I started messin’ with the decks in the mid-’90’s, playing mostly Reggae, Hip Hop & some deep House. I got into beat making and production about 7 years ago.
How did you connect and form Hip-Hop’s underground Dynamic Duo?
P: We’ve been boys for years but didn’t connect on the music tip til after college. Sonburn was knocking down Reggae tracks on the 1 and 2’s and we decided to link on the Hip-Hop plane. The rest is history.
SB: We were always makin’ mix tapes for each other in high school. Priz would hit me off with some Reggae & Hip-Hop joints and I would hit him back with whatever I was listening to at the time, mostly stuff from the U.K. We had an appreciation for each others musical tastes so years later when Priz laid down the gauntlet and asked me to make some tracks for him to bless, it seemed to work right off the bat and like he said…the rest is history.
I’m sure that you’ve probably heard the comparisons before, but you two are like the modern day Eric B. and Rakim. How have they influenced your musical style (beats, rhymes and lifestyle)?
P: Rakim is one of the illest to ever touch a mic and to be put into the same category is somewhat overwhelming, but appreciated at the same time. Eric B’s mastery of samples and hard, driving beats has basically paved the way to how we make music.
SB: Yeah, you can definitely hear their influence in what we try to do musically but even more so in the aspect of being a true Hip-Hop duo….something you really don’t see anymore in Hip-Hop. We wanted that cohesive feel that you got back in the day when you heard a track or album & instantly knew the cats who made it, whereas today you have 12 different Producers and 20 different Emcee’s & Singers on a record and it ends up sounding like a compilation. Eric B. & Rakim were just that, two people creating music together, forging a unique sound and that’s what we aspire to as well.
What other artists have influenced your infectious sound?
P: Bob Marley and the Wailers, Big Daddy Kane, Gang Starr, Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick, Peter Tosh, Nas, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Jay-Z and of course the Wu Tang Clan.
SB: The Clash, Massive Attack, De La Soul, Tribe, Slick Rick, Biz Markie, James Brown, tons of Roots Reggae and the whole Madchester / Acid House scene from the U.K.
SB, your veteran production always comes through on each track and compliments the verbal onslaught that Prism unleashes. Your sound takes you back to Hip-Hop’s Golden Era, ’88-’92. Heavy drum loops intertwine with classic sampled grooves and remind the listeners what real Hip-Hop sounds like. How do you manage to create new music out of commonly used samples?
SB: My first beats were all made from scratch as I was trying to get my head around the technology & software that was out there which made it easier for someone like me who had no musical training but a good ear for music to create something that sounded like the Hip-Hop I love….which happens to be the era you mention (’88-’92). As I gained confidence in the programs I was using I found that the best way for me to express my love for and pay homage to that era of Hip-Hop was to start using samples and even though I was cutting up some commonly used grooves I wanted to put my own spin on it…maybe use multiple samples in a track from completely different genres. I was trying for an almost cinematic Hip-Hop feel, where the track could stand on its own as an instrumental but if you put Priz on the mic, it totally changed the vibe of the song.
SB, every producer/beat maker has their process when creating classic material. Some cats zone out with a bag of bless, others find themselves surrounded by cassette tapes and stacks of vinyl. Can you walk us through your procedures when you’re creating new music?
SB: Unfortunately beat making isn’t my full time job so I have limited time to focus on creating which is also another reason why I starting leaning heavily on samples…it was born from necessity really. I needed to find a go-to workstation (Fruity Loops) where my workflow was efficient & I could put my thoughts & ideas down quickly. It usually starts with what kind if track do I want to make (fast, slow, dancy, dirty) and then I’ll lay down a drum track or bass line that I use as template while I dig for what sort of sample I might want to use….a lot of trial & error trying to find out what fits right. Sometimes the sample dictates the direction the track takes and I’ll add my own drums and layer sounds, try to make it my own.
Would you say that you travel the same path as DJ Premiere (sample heavy music with relatively no original instrumentation) or Rick Rubin (a mixture of samples and original instrumentation)?
SB: Right now it’s probably leaning more toward Premiere although I’ve done both styles. For better or worse I feel that sampling allows me to express my love of all types of music, my beats really are a tribute to all the bands, Emcee’s, songs and albums that have moved me through the years. There’s always a little something original in there though, even if it’s real subtle.
How do you feel about your peers who discredit producers and beat makers who base their instrumentals on loops and breaks?
SB: There’s definitely validity to that argument, I mean, if I went to school to study or trained & practiced to be a musician I might resent someone for using other peoples music but I don’t have access to session musicians or an expensive studio and equipment. I love music and I love making music so it’s really my only outlet. I’m not rich off this, I’ve never made a dollar for a beat so I think I do it with full respect for those individuals who have blessed the world with their talent. I’m makin’ beats on a desktop in the living room of my apartment, guerrilla stylee. There is a skill in it though, the talent & creativity has to be there, just because you have Pro Tools and an MPC doesn’t mean you’re automatically droppin’ fyah.
Prism, you have one of the illest flows that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. You rhyme with a lot of passion and force and have the ability to drop gems on heads. Your metaphors and similes are always immaculate and somersault across the track like an Olympic gymnast. How do you manage to stay sharp in what seems like a deteriorating period in Hip-Hop.
P: Lyricism is what I do. It’s not a chore to drop verses for cats like me who grew up on the art form. It’s a shame that that aspect of the music has deteriorated so much. People no longer know artists’ verses. They just know the hooks. I grew up in a time where if you didn’t have skills on the mic you were booed off the stage!
Every emcee derives their style from the pioneers that have put in the blood sweat and tears for us all to be able to do what we do. What emcee(s) do you believe you are comprised of?
P: I’d like to think that I’m a mixture of Kane, Chuck D and Krs One…but I try to do it in my own way and with my own views.
Back in the good days of Hip-Hop there were many DJ/Emcee combinations that left us all yearning for more. Superlova Cee and Casanova Rudd, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Eric B and Rakim and Pete Rock & C.L Smooth are just a few of the many duos that recognized the importance of the DJ. Today the audience focuses more on the talents of the emcee. The DJ has always been the backbone of our beloved genre. How do you manage to balance the importance of your roles and still create timeless music?
P: We try to embody the art form to the fullest. We do what we love and strive to be the best at it. If one of us falls off then we both sink, so we make sure that we keep each other sharp.
SB: We have never tried to be something we aren’t. You’re not gonna see me droppin’ verses because that’s not what I do. We’ve always had a good working relationship, I don’t tell Priz what to write about the same way he doesn’t tell me what kinds of beats to make. We give suggestions and collaborate on every track but neither of us is looking for the spotlight. Think like this: without my beats Prism’s words don’t penetrate your dome and without his words my beats are just instrumentals on some beat CD collecting dust under the couch. We respect each other equally, knowing it’s a full on partnership.
Talk to us about your debut LP/Mixtape appropriately titled “No Frills”.
P: Beats and Rhymes with no filler. Period.
SB: That about says it, no gimmicky trickery, no bling, no high gloss polish & thank God, no Auto-Tune.
How long did it take for you to complete the album?
SB: It’s actually still a work in progress, it really has been a labour of love for the last 4 years or so. We have completed what could potentially be the first LP but we’re always looking to add & improve on what we have already done.
How often do you guys hit the studio to work on new material? Are you guys lab rats who are constantly recording or do things happen in more of a sporadic nature?
P: Well we now live 700 miles away from each other so most of our work is done via email. When Sonny drops fire, he sends it to me and I do my half.
SB: There’s not a lot of wasted effort when we’re ready to drop something. I don’t have a stockpile of beats laying around, just about every beat I send to Priz will get blessed at some point. I always try hard to craft something with the mindset that it’ll be a single or album track. We both have such limited time at the moment that it’s not productive for us to deal with filler.
Who were some of the artists/producers that you worked with to complete this project?
P: Natural Born guest appeared on “Paradise” and “More Fyah”, Shank W appeared on “More Fyah”and Debbie Kuo blessed the hook on “Come Back to Me”.
One of my favorite tracks would have to be “Lyrical Hercules”. The beat, lyrics, flows…. all airtight. How did you come up with the concept, rhythmical sequences and lyrics for such a powerful song?
P: The song was created like every other song that we do. Sonny B laced the beat and I relayed whatever emotions came out while listening to it.
SB: Yeah, I love that Priz actually writes to my beats rather than opening up a rhyme book and just dropping random verses. You can really hear it in the music, he crafts his words to fit & compliment the beat, it allows him to tell a story, take you somewhere. On my side, I had this Aaaron Neville track and it was just so funky so I chopped it a bit, sped it up, layered some drums over it and pieced it together. It might be our finest moment.
Another hot track is “Come Back to Me”. The song is so visual. Its one of those songs that you can close your eyes and see everything that is said. The beat provides a dope backdrop for the story with its light key and synth transitions. What was the inspiration behind this song?
P: This track actually shows the downside to the hustle. Everyone thinks of the quick cash without thoughts to how getting caught can affect the people around you. So as an emcee I tried to show how one can get caught up in the game and the last couple of bars shows what can happen when things go wrong. Big up to Debbie Kuo who wrote and relayed the hook with nuff passion!
SB: I heard this instrumental of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and it just popped for me. I heard the verse parts, the hook, it all fell into place pretty quickly. I had no idea what Priz was gonna do with it but I loved the concept he came up with & putting Debbie on the hook took it to that next dimension. It’s funny because Wu Tang used a similar sample for a recent track & I had to tell people that I made mine 3 + years before theirs dropped…one of the few times I didn’t want to be accused of biting someone else’s shit…maybe they bit it off me!!!!
What is the official album release date?
SB: We’re looking for distribution…anyone listening?
With all of the fabricated and replicated acts in music today, how do you see Prism and Sonburn fitting into today’s Hip-Hop?
P: A breath of fresh air.
SB: Hip-Hop for heads who used to love it, don’t love it anymore & want to love it again.
What do you bring to Hip-Hop that separates you from other artists?
P: Unlike most artists out today, we don’t make music to try and sound like everyone else on the charts. A true artist of any genre tries to make music that they like and that is true to themselves. No one has our experiences or thoughts, so we start off with a different mindset than the rest.
SB: I agree & I think the fact that we aren’t hustling like crazy trying to portray an image of something we aren’t. We’re both in our 30’s, we both have careers and families. I don’t carry a gun, don’t have Wii hooked up in the car, don’t have a game room at the crib, don’t wear my hat sideways or my pants baggy & if I tried, I’d be a joke. I would never sit in front of a Record Exec. & try to come off as something other than a semi-middle aged intelligent white male who just happens to know more about real Hip-Hop than a lot of cats who seem to be reaping a ton of the benefits in the industry at the moment.
What’s your view on the current state of Hip-Hop?
P: I love that Hip-Hop is so big right now, but am disappointed by the lack of substance in the music. Hence, the onslaught of one hit wonders.
SB: I think that the consumers, the radio listeners especially, are being hand fed what they should think is hot at the moment by businessmen/women who are only after making huge profits and not furthering the art form. I’m all for making money but at the end of the day, are you really gonna remember anything that is currently tearing up the charts 10-15 years from now? There has to be substance, something that stands the test, one of the reasons why I barely listen to any current Hip-Hop. I tell people to scour the internet, search out those underground artists who are doing it for the love & have something to say…feed your mind, not the pockets of people who could care less if you’re “hear” today & gone tomorrow.
What advice do you have for your peers who are trying to pursue a career in the music industry?
P: Keep it real to yourself and do it BIG! People will get it.
Sonburn: Strive to make the kind of music that moves you, feel it from your heart & gut and have conviction. At the end of the day, if you never “make it” at least you have your integrity and that’s what will help maintain your love of the music & craft.
If you could sum your music up in one word, what would it be?
SB: Funkyheadknockinsoul…I kinda cheated, sorry.